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31 Moments That Led to Hulk Hogan’s Bankrupting Gawker Media

 

HulkmaniaXXX-compressed[1]

The Hulk Hogan-Gawker Media lawsuit has taken so many turns over the years that, unless one is a devoted media obsessive or sex tape aficionado, it’s relatively easy to lose sight of the meaning of this case, and the legal precedents that are at stake.

#HulkvsGawk has sparked interest within multiple camps, ranging from First Amendment martyrs crying foul to Gamergate trolls with a taste for blogger blood to die-hard fans of “Suburban Commando,” but the general public hasn’t paid close attention to the tabloid saga. There are too many characters and too many facets. It’s all, very understandably, so confusing.

So here’s a broad chronology of events that has led us to what could be an important decision in regards to freedom of the press.

 

1. May 28, 1982: A rising pro wrestling star makes his big-screen debut in “Rocky III.” 

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Hulk Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, was climbing the ranks of the World Wrestling Federation when he accepted the role of a pro wrestler named “Thunderlips” opposite Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa.

 

2. The same month, Hogan posed in a risque Oui Magazine photoshoot. 

oui-spread

Hogan, in another attempt to raise his profile and promote his virile brand, took part in a photo spread in the now-defunct men’s interest magazine, which featured him grinding and caressing alongside nude female models.

 

3. December 18, 1983: Hogan marries Linda Claridge in a ceremony covered by Japanese television. 

Thanks to Hogan’s popularity as the top foreign pro wrestler in the country, Hogan gives TV Asahi access to film his wedding in an attempt to familiarize fans with the Hogan persona outside the ring. Highlights were shown on New Japan Pro Wrestling’s television show.

 

4. January 23, 1984: Hogan wins his first WWF Championship from The Iron Sheik.

The Madison Square Garden event officially crowned Hogan the top star in the industry, which led to years of a successful branding of his macho image, seen in hundreds of wrestling events, a Saturday morning cartoon series, bad movies (“Suburban Commando,” “No Holds Barred”), athletic apparel, andkids’ chewable multivitamins.

 

5. July 23, 1991: The pro wrestling steroid scandal explodes.

Hogan’s catchphrase “train, say your prayers and take your vitamins” suddenly took on new meaning when word broke that he used anabolic steroids. (The common joke was asking whether the vitamins were “oral or injectable.”) Hogan was to appear on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” as discussed with WWF chairman Vince McMahon, to admit as much. But, instead, he double-crossed McMahon by effectively denying steroid use to Hall’s studio audience.

 

6. June 1994: Hogan signs with WCW.

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The Hulkster joins the WCW, McMahon’s competitor, which was owned by Turner Broadcasting.

 

7. September 2, 1995: Hogan is accused of sexual assault.

Two days before the launch of “WCW Monday Nitro,” a TV show to air opposite the McMahon’s flagship “Monday Night Raw” series, Hogan is alleged to have sexually assaulted Kate Kennedy, a public relations flack, at the Bloomington Marriott Hotel in Minnesota.

Kennedy sued him a few months later, and Hogan countersued and accused Kennedy of extortion. It was eventually settled out of court with the terms being confidential. (Sixteen years later, when appearing on the October 12, 2011 edition of “The Howard Stern Show,” Hogan expressed frustration that wife Linda had constantly accused him of cheating on her when the only proof of infidelity she had was “one mistake in Minnesota.”)

 

8. The next several years, Hogan maintains a lucrative career in wrestling.

3-ninjas-high-noon-at-mega-mountain-hogan

Hogan made a killing during his WCW era (1994-2000) and still managed to make appearances in movies and TV shows, albeit in franchises not as prominent as “Rocky.” (Photo above from 1998’s “3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain.”)

 

9. In 2005, “Hogan Knows Best” makes its TV debut.

Hogan accepted VH1’s offer to do a “soft-scripted” reality show about his family so that he could provide a platform for his daughter Brooke’s singing career.

 

10. Over the next year, Hogan goes into very public and graphic detail about his sex life. 

Hulk & Linda Hogan (Getty Images)

Throughout 2006, Hogan, sometimes joined by wife Linda, appeared regularly on his friend Bubba Clem’s “Bubba the Love Sponge Show” on Sirius Satellite Radio. Hogan’s appearances routinely highlighted his sex life in graphic terms, including the size of his penis and the utility of his mustache when performing oral sex. One example:

Bubba: Hey, Hogan. You can – you can always resort to just oral. I mean – I mean, you’re probably pretty good at that. That Fu Manchu probably feels good.

Hatley [one of Bubba’s producers]: Oh, man. That thing’s got to tickle.

Hogan: Hey, brother, I’ve had that on for a long time for a reason. This ain’t for show. This is for go. [Laughter.]

Hatley: The flavor saver?

Bubba: The flavor saver.

Hogan: Oh, yeah, why do you think when I make that face in the middle of the ring, when I’m sniffing my mustache?

Linda: [You know how he] does the sniffy-the-mustache thing or whatever you call that gimmick [in the ring]? It’s his little sign to show me that he’s thinking about me.

Bubba: You threw your hip out, but you better not throw out your tongue or you’re out of here.

 

11. In June-July 2007, Hogan has sex with Bubba’s wife. 

Hulk Hogan & Bubba the Love Sponge (Getty Images)

At the behest of Bubba the Love Sponge Clem (formerly Todd Alan Clem), Hogan has at least three sexual encounters with Bubba’s then-wife Heather Clem (now Heather Cole). At the Clems’ home in the Tampa area, the couple videotaped three Hulkster-Heather encounters that took place in the master bedroom, and with at least one more at Bubba’s radio station not being filmed.

Hogan has steadfastly claimed that he had no knowledge of the taping. The videos, which were shot with a poor quality, monochromatic hidden camera, include a number of damaging comments from Hogan, including racist comments about his daughter Brooke’s boyfriend, Yannique Barker. Hogan also made numerous comments referring to a potential divorce and his marriage being irreparably damaged.

 

12. On November 24, 2007, Linda Bollea files for divorce.

Linda Hogan hugs Om Nom (Getty Images)

After the divorce papers were filed in Pinellas County Court, the St. Petersburg Times reached Hogan for comment. “Thank you for the great information,” he said before hanging up. Five minutes later, he called back and said, “I’m kind of shocked … you caught me off-guard. Holy smokes. Wow, you just knocked the bottom out of me.”

 

13. December 19, 2007: Gawker makes a powerful enemy.

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Writer Owen Thomas posts on Gawker.com about PayPal co-founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel titled, “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.” For however questionable the headline may seem, the post itself thoughtful examines homophobia within Silicon Valley and the investment community.

In the comments, Gawker founder Nick Denton noted that “[Thiel] was so paranoid that, when I was looking into the story, a year ago, I got a series of messages relaying the destruction that would rain down on me, and various innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, if a story ever ran.” He was not kidding. While later, it would be argued that Thiel was outed by the piece, Thomas (who is openly gay, as is Denton), insists otherwise, to the point thata representative for Thiel told him there were no issues with the story.

 

14. In April 2009, Hogan admits to violent feelings during a bitter divorce.

Hulk Hogan bloody (Getty Images)

Rolling Stone interviewed Hogan, who shared his intimate and emotional feelings related to the break-up with Linda: “I could have turned everything into a crime scene like O.J., cutting everybody’s throat … You live half a mile from the 20,000-square-foot home you can’t go to anymore, you’re driving through downtown Clearwater [Florida] and see a 19-year-old boy driving your Escalade, and you know that a 19-year-old boy is sleeping in your bed, with your wife. … I totally understand O.J. I get it.”

 

15. Hogan releases his second memoir on October 27, 2009.

Hulk Hogan book signing (Getty Images)

“My Life Outside The Ring” was theoretically a “serious” memoir in which Hogan puts more private items of his life into play, from his love of “The Secret,” to how close he claims he was to suicide, to details of a love affair he had with a representative of his daughter’s record company:

Next thing I know, the two of us started kissing. Not to sound perverted or anything, but it was fantastic. Here I am in my fifties now, and this was a really attractive thirty-four-year-old woman, with dark hair and a curvaceous body. . . . It was such an emotional and physical release. We didn’t have sex that night, but it opened the door. Over the course of the next two months we did have sex, maybe five different times. That was it. Linda had no idea. For a while it had that sort of a naughty appeal, like a kid sneaking some chocolate he’s not supposed to have.

 

16. In October 2011, Bubba Clem and Heather Cole begin divorce proceedings.

Bubba the Love Sponge and Heather Clem (Getty Images)

It was around this time that Bubba moved the DVDs of Heather’s liaisons with Hogan and some of his other friends to his office. Eventually, Bubba transported the tapes to another office when his show moved to a new studio. The drawer he placed them in was unlocked and could be opened by anyone with access to his office.

Bubba has since claimed that he did not tell anyone at work about the DVDs, despite some gossip reporters having indicated otherwise.

 

17. In March-April 2012, word leaks of the existence of at least one Hulk Hogan sex tape.

Heather Cole (nee Clem) deposition

A summary of the tape’s contents, including some of Hogan’s racist comments, is circulated via email around the Tampa and New York radio communities, including to and from Bubba rival Mike “Cowhead” Calta. TMZ pays somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 to screen the videos, while photo stills were leaked to TheDirty.com.

“Sorry Hulkster,” wrote TheDirty.com owner Nik Richie in a blog post, “whatcha you going to do (white) brother when this sex tape comes out on you (Terry, do you remember what you said about black people In this sex tape… you are not Dog the Bounty Hunter)?” Bubba Clem later claims to have not known the DVDs were missing or stolen until the published reports hit the internet, and no one at this time claimed to have known who took the DVDs or disseminated them to select media outlets.

 

18. On September 27, 2012, a Gawker editor receives an email.

A.J. Daulerio (Getty Images)

Tony Burton, an agent at Don Buchwald and Associates, which primarily represents radio personalities, sent the following email to Gawker.com editor in chief A.J. Daulerio:

Hi AJ,

I have a client that has a very significant DVD they want to send you.

But they are asking to mail it to you for anonymity purposes.

Can you provide me with an address or PO Box you can send me?

 

19. On October 4, 2012, Gawker publishes an excerpt from the sex tape.

Gawker Hulk Hogan Sex Tape Post

Daulerio’s post, “Even for a Minute, Watching Hulk Hogan Have Sex in a Canopy Bed is Not Safe For Work but Watch it Anyway,” was accompanied by a short compilation of excerpted footage from a DVD that he received from an anonymous sender — an item deemed newsworthy given its public interest related to a celebrity who has benefitted from being remarkably open about his sex life in a very public fashion.

Daulerio’s excerpted footage included somewhere between four and eight seconds of sexual contact, all heavily blurred by the poor quality camera. The article’s focus was on the mundane conversation in the video, to make the case that super-macho celebrities who boast about their oversized members and sexual stamina, in fact, fuck just like everybody else.

Within a matter of days, Hogan’s personal lawyer, David Houston, asked to have the video taken down, but Gawker refused on First Amendment grounds.

 

20. On October 10, 2012, a sex tape broker contacts Hogan to “buy” the videos.

Hulk Hogan & David Houston on The View (Getty Images)

Keith Davidson, a Los Angeles lawyer best known as a “sex tape broker,” acted on behalf of Matt “Spiceboy” Loyd, a former on-air personality who used to work for Bubba the Love Sponge Clem. Davidson contacted Hogan’s lawyer Houston to try and convince his client to “buy” the videos. The broker particularly notes the potentially damaging effects of the racist comments that Hogan made on one of the videos.

Houston and Hogan go to the FBI six days later and continue to deal with Davidson to set up a sting operation.

 

21. Hogan goes to court on October 15, 2012.

Hulk Hogan, David Houston, & Charles Harder announce Gawker sex tape lawsuit (Getty Images)

Hogan sues Gawker Media in federal court to try to get an injunction to have the video taken down, but the attempt fails. The same day, Hogan sues Bubba Clem and Heather Cole in Florida’s Pinellas County Court for “invasion of privacy by intrusion upon seclusion,” among other related charges.

Gawker is eventually added to the Pinellas County action, while Bubba quickly settled out of court for $5,000 and a guarantee that he would cooperate with Hogan. Heather wasn’t dropped from the lawsuit until much later for reasons that have not been adequately explained. (Long after having settled with Hogan, Bubba still refuses to explain his role or any wrongdoing in the sex tape saga.)

 

22. December 14, 2012: The sex tape sting goes down.

Sand Pearl Hotel web

At the Sand Pearl Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, Hogan and Houston meet with Davidson and his purported client, Lori Burbridge, for an FBI sting under the guise of making a deal. Burbridge later admitted to fronting for her friends Spiceboy and Tasha Carrega, Spiceboy’s wife. The operation ended when FBI agents burst into the hotel room after Houston handed Davidson a check for $150,000. Nobody was charged, and no explanation as to why has been released publicly.

 

23. On May 19, 2015, Gawker sues the feds. 

FBI seal (Getty Images)

Gawker, having procured privacy waivers from Hogan, Houston, and Cole, sues the FBI for turning down their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the files on the Hogan sting operation. Gawker effectively won just over a month later, but they didn’t get full and complete production from the FBI until late November.

 

24. On July 24, 2015, the world learns of Hogan’s racist tirade.

Hulk Hogan & Mike Tyson (Getty Images)

The National Enquirer publishes a story which includes a transcript of Hogan’s racist comments from one of the sex tapes, and Hogan is immediately fired by the WWE. The wrestling organization then scrubbed all references to him from their website.

Hogan’s legal team immediately suspects Gawker as the leak for the transcript, but the potential consequences for Gawker makes the move unlikely. If Gawker’s lawyers were found to have leaked the comments, they would have been found in violation of a court order and Gawker would lose the equivalent of a default judgment. (Audio of the comments surfaced in April 2016 at Death and Taxes.)

 

25. March 7, 2016: The Hogan/Gawker trial begins, and Hogan argues he is two different people.

On day two of the trial, Terry Bollea explains how the Hulk Hogan persona has a bigger penis than he does. (This moment in which Bollea tries to argue that he and Hogan are two different people comes decades after Hogan has invited the world into his private life via personal memoirs and lengthy interviews as one “Hulk Hogan.”)

The following week saw the trial’s lowest moment, as Judge Campbell ruled that a juror question (in Florida, jurors can submit written questions in civil trials) asking Gawker’s Emma Carmichael if she had ever slept with her bosses was relevant.

 

26. March 16, 2016: The court rules Bubba the Love Sponge won’t have to testify.

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Though originally sued by Hogan in 2012, Clem settled with his old friend within weeks and issued a statement on his WHPT-FM/102.5 morning show. “I am now convinced that Hulk Hogan was unaware of the presence of the recording device in my bedroom,” Bubba told listeners. “Additionally, I am certain that he had no role in the release of the video.”

The apology was curiously in direct conflict with what he told listeners weeks prior, just 24 hours after Hogan named him in an invasion of privacy lawsuit. “There were three people in that home. All three knew what time it was,” Bubba said. “You know I have surveillance. You knew of everything going on … But now that your feelings are hurt … you’re trying to cover your ass with your wife and your jobs and your social standing.”

But Bubba Clem was not required to decide which of these two stories he would relay to a jury. Judge Pamela Campbell told the jury that Clem was “unavailable” to testify.

 

27. The same day, FBI files were kept from the jury. 

emma-carmichael-sex-juror-gawker-hogan-trial1-compressed

Hogan’s lawyers filed an emergency motion to keep the FBI sting operation files from being used in court. As the documents later revealed when they were inconveniently released after the verdict, Hogan’s motivation for suing Gawker Media wasn’t for the “invasion of privacy” complaint he argued in court, but apparently that he wanted to keep his racist rant from going public and damaging the Hogan brand.

 

28. March 18, 2016: The Verdict.

After a few hours of deliberations, the jury finds in Hogan’s favor on all counts, awarding $115 million in compensatory damages: $55 million for economic harm/lost wages and $60 million for emotional distress. Three days later, Hogan is awarded another $15.1 million in punitive damages, with the “.1″  being $100,000 from Daulerio, whose net worth was declared as -$27,000 — this, in spite of the judge telling the jury that they can’t bankrupt the defendants.

 

29. On May 2, 2016, Hogan sues Gawker again.

In Bollea v. Don Buchwald and Associates, Inc., Hogan filed a new complaintagainst those he believes were involved in leaking his racist comments. Much of the public response to the new lawsuit centered around the disbelief that Hogan would try to keep the racist comments in the news for so long. Sixteen days later, Gawker filed a motion arguing that this proved their argument that he had defrauded the court to cover up that his emotional distress was over the potential leak of the racist comments.

 

30. May 25, 2016: Peter Thiel reveals himself as Hogan’s financial backer.

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Longstanding rumors that some billionaire Gawker hater was funding Hogan’s lawsuit and perhaps others turned out to be true when Peter Thiel admitted to bankrolling Hogan during the costly legal battle. The revelation lead to widespread concern about the balance of power between media and billionaires. Though the angle that Thiel was “outed” helps him in terms of public perception.

 

31. On June 10, 2016, Gawker Media files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

gawker-bankruptcy

When Gawker attempted to get the execution of the award stayed pending appeal, Judge Campbell granted it — but only if they’d let Hogan have a lien on company assets. Not wanting to cede control to Hogan, Gawker turned down the offer and immediately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that media conglomerate Ziff Davis would be placing the opening bid for Gawker Media, ranging somewhere between $90 to $100 million. (Daulerio and Denton are protected via temporary restraining order from having to pay Hogan any damages.)

The bankruptcy auction is to take place in late July; Gawker’s appeal case has not yet been scheduled.

 

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